Grasping memories of Billy Joel demo tapes and My Little Pony, the visual programming language Max and screensaver art coaxed Rokhsar into a digital domain that liberates fears and fantasies. A sonic translator, he contemplates pre-digital brains in a post-modernist, digitalised province.
So let’s start off by you telling me a bit about yourself
I grew up on Long Island. Billy Joel had a house one town over. I remember sometimes we would drive past it and my dad would point out all the demo tapes that people would throw over his fence in the hopes that he would listen [to them] and make them famous. I left Long Island after high school to go to college in upstate New York, and then lived in Philadelphia and California. I now live in Brooklyn.
Would you say your background influences your work at all?
The biggest influence on my work autobiographically is the way I was raised. I didn't have a lot of friends when I was younger, but I had two sisters, and we were all close. We created an epic storyline around the adventures of our toys: it had a narrative that lasted like eight years. It even had a series finale… it was a musical that involved Paula Abdul songs. It was truly a finale - I never played with toys again after that. The feeling I get when I create 3D art with music brings me back to that space I shared with my sisters.
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🎶👽🌊 one minute meditation for any aliens who need to find their breath and step out of their minds and into their bodies . . . Thanks to my therapist for the meditation #therapyiscool . . . . . . . . . . #aliens #meditation #calm #relax #rest #peace #selfcare #mystic #spiritualawakening #animation #c4d #octane #unity3d #shaders #cartoon #thirdeye #👽 #chill #space
What got you into this realm of visual work?
For a long time, I never thought of myself as a visual artist. I made music, first on a Tascam four track, then in a band, and then using software like Ableton, and by making my own music software using a programming language called Max. It's a visual programming language…instead of typing in code, you make little flowcharts that turn into code, so Max helped me get into visual art. I became interested in the way the computer doesn't know the difference between an audio file and a video file. I started doing little experiments where I would turn a photo into sound, play it through my speakers, and then set up a microphone to capture it and turn it back into a photo again. I made images change based on analysing sound - kind of a DIY, screensaver art.
In some ways, I think playing with a medium "the wrong way" was a safe way for me to get into a kind of art I was afraid I was bad at. A major turning point happened for me was when I was working at an arts summer camp. I was teaching a group of 8 year olds, and I had to explain something by doing a drawing. One of the campers came up to me later and said, "You're good at drawing." No one had told me that before! …it meant a lot because they were very open about telling me what they didn't like about me. I started to draw. I started reading comics and graphic novels.
What are your main inspirations in terms of conceptual development?
Often the whole thing comes from something small, like a feeling or a lyric… I was in the shower and a melody came to me with the lyric "I love you so much I can't remember if I'm a boy or a girl." Then I spent the next month creating this video, just to support that lyric: https://www.instagram.com/p/BifzMfDHlym/. More recently I'm experimenting with new ways of working. My process is always changing … right now I am interested in ways I can work quickly… because I love the feeling of immediacy when I draw or when I make live music. I can work fast enough to let deeper ideas come out without the editor in me messing them up, or the fearful parts of me trying to hide them, or the vain parts of me altering them to so I can present myself in a slick, attractive way. To me, all art making is a collaboration: not just with people, but with the medium and what it wants, what it likes and what it doesn't like; what you are feeling that day, what you ate, how you slept, what things you dreamt about but forgot; your conversational diet, your internet diet, your media diet... impossible to name it all… Digital 3D art is so compelling to me because I feel like I can make anything. But it's so, so slow. And cognitive.... The question that is driving my practice now is: how can I make fast art in a slow medium?
You have a clear, individualistic aesthetic - streamlined, bright colours etc. Can you tell me about the development of this?
When I started making the alien videos, I had something specific in my mind: Lisa Frank on hallucinogens. Over time I think memories of playing with my sisters as a kid influenced the overall look - My Little Ponies, Care Bears, Play-doh. The stuff that felt forbidden to me as a boy I can now celebrate. And then there's my love of movies, specifically horror movies, especially 70s Italian Giallo films and their palettes, which often feature intense coloured rooms and coloured lights.
Do you see your different realms of work (gaming, music and 3D design) as individuals or are they all creatively linked? Do they feed into one another for you?
I see it all as being linked. I want to play with everything. I like asking the same questions of different media and seeing what happens. I also love non-digital work. All my drawings are done by hand. I am in a band with my friend Alix Diaconis, who is a video editor at The Verge and a film maker. We make 100% improvised analogue music using guitar, drums, and voice… they are lyric driven songs and then we never play them again. This is my favourite way of making: total fast art, no time to second guess or edit. I have made software for musicians that lets people create visuals that automatically go [with] their music. Ableton sells one of them as a plug-in but rejected my newest one.
Can you tell us anything about what you're working on right now?
The main thing I'm excited about is that I am turning my Instagram account into a wider platform for other creatives who share a similar sensibility to me… I want to use it to create new work and highlight other artists. I [also]want to start pulling in educational content about how to make the kinds of art I make…I am trying to develop @aesthetic_candy into the internet I want to see in the world: a soft, weird, playful place for real feelings and strange ideas. I'm also working on a game. It's called, "Have You Ever Seen Something So Beautiful It Made You Cry?". You play as Blump, a sentient piece of meat who is looking for its soul. All I know right now is that it's musical, it's crazy, and every other level is a meditation. Besides that, just more and more animations, drawings, and music.
Digital art is becoming more and more significant in mainstream culture now, it seems we are simultaneously becoming and adapting to a digitalised world. What do you think about this?
I think recently the psyche has just begun to catch onto post-modernism, and we’ve started asking a lot of questions about if what we [are] seeing and hearing is true; debating what is true - what true means. This makes sense: digital art and tools are becoming ever better imitators of the non-digital. Even the current version of fake news is inherently digital. This will only get more [extreme] as machine learning gets better and computers get faster. We will be able to watch videos of people saying and doing things they never said or did. I don't know what the fallout will be from all this. I do know that we are not wired for a digital world. Our brains are pre-digital and they tend to believe that all the constructed, digital realities are true. I think this causes a lot of suffering as we compare our insides to other people's digital outsides… At the same time, digital tools give new opportunities for people to create new kinds of art… We are not whole as a species unless we can identify with each other through our differences… Where there is fracture, there's always violence. Where there is identification, there's a chance for peace.
courtesy ADAM ROKHSAR
interview KATE BISHOP
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